Last week, there was an article in the Globe and Mail on the increased popularity of public acts of mourning. Setting the stage with the mounds of flowers placed at Buckingham Palace after Princess Di died, the article talked about the proliferation of roadside monuments and internet memorial sites. Then, in the latest Macleans (or one of the latest – as usual, I am a few weeks behind . . . . ), there was an opinion piece on the opulence of mourning. The author lamented the loss of reserve in obituaries, and the change in emphasis from “funeral” to “celebration of life.”
I found the first article interesting – the idea of grief for a stranger who has passed away and of the desire for a person who has lost a loved one to grieve in a public way are both fascinating. I’ve been a reading a book about Generation X and faith (“Virtual Faith”by Tom Beaudoin). Generally, it’s full of the kind of questionable textual over-analysis that made me decide not to continue studying English literature, but last night I hit upon something that rang true – he mentioned that because our generation is so saturated with media, we see our own experiences play out like a movie or TV show before our lives, rather than really living them. I have noticed this in life in general, and it makes sense that it would spill over into our grief. If we are taught to mourn through the media, it is not surprising that mourning has become more public – that there has been an increase in candlelight vigils, with press releases sent out ahead of time, and other mourning “events”.
In the second article, the author bemoaned the fact that funerals are too sugar-coated, and avoid the possibility of death. The author talked glowingly about funerals from days gone by, in which the homily was a reminder that all life is transient, and we’re all going on to something bigger. I thought the author missed a pretty major fact here – not everyone believes that we are going to something bigger. I have mourned with an agnostic family during the tragic and sudden death of their son/brother. This family didn’t know where they thought he had gone, and were working through those issues, while trying to figure out how to memorialize him. It was important for them to be surrounded in objects and photos that spoke of his short life. Playing a hymn wouldn’t have meant anything to them, or reflected their relationship to him, but some country music from the CD that was in his truck did. Serving “tradition” would have done nothing to help this family grieve.
While the author of the Macleans piece had some good insight into the lack of focus that some funerals seem to have, epitomized in eulogies that are really more about the speaker than the deceased, I think that he misses the point that mourning is a very personal thing. Every person’s mourning experience is going to be coloured by her relationship to the deceased, the circumstances of the death, and her spiritual beliefs. It seems to me that a celebration of life can be a very positive focus for a funeral. When we lose someone we love, we are going to be sad, so why shouldn’t we dress in bright colours and surround ourselves with people who care about us, and remember the good things about the person we’ve lost?